Victim Studies 016: Robert Lee Yates

on April 10, 2012 in Serial Killers, Victim Studies, Victimology by

Robert Lee Yates is a serial killer from Washington whose murder series spanned from 1988, at the age of 36, until 1999, but is also known to have murdered prior to his series in 1975, at the age of 23. He was found guilty in 2000 for the murders of 13 people and sentenced to life in prison. Yates was also found guilty of another two murders in 2002 and was sentenced to death. Although Yates was found guilty of a total of 15 murders he is thought to have killed upwards of 18 people during his murder series.

Before Yates began his murder series he was known to have been an intelligent and attentive student. He did well in high school and went on to get an Associate’s Degree from Skagit Valley College. Yates enlisted into the U.S. Army in 1976, after being employed at Washington State Penitentiary. He went on to serve in the army, learn how to fly helicopters and taught others how to fly as well. He was married and had five children during his murder series. It was both during and after he served time in the U.S. Army that his murder series took place.

It is believed that Yates murdered his first victims, a young couple by Mill Creek in 1975, when he was out hunting by his place of work, Washington State Penitentiary. The murder of this couple was very different from the murders that took place during his murder series because one victim was a male and the female was not a known prostitute. The bodies were found in different locations in a wooded area. He did not begin his murder series until 1988, with the murder of a known prostitute, Stacy E. Hawn. During his murder series he would only murder females who were known prostitutes in Spokane, Washington. All of the victims were between the ages of 16 and 60 and were mostly Caucasian. The women that Yates preferred to murder were usually involved in various types of drugs and typically tested positive for illegal drugs when their remains were discovered.

All of the victims were found shot to death. There was no other method of murder that Yates used throughout his murder series. The ballistic tests showed that he preferred a .22-caliber weapon or a .32 and .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol. After Yates shot a woman he would tie plastic bags around their heads. He would then steal money, clothing, identification and other personal totems. Many of the totems were never discovered. Most of the remains were found dumped in parking lots or in fields, but some of the victims were buried and were only discovered after Yates was arrested. One of victims was found buried in Yates’s garden, right beneath his bedroom window. Typically, Yates would shoot his victims in his van and then dump the bodies elsewhere. Detectives were able to determine that the bodies had been dumped because of the lack of blood surrounding the victims and the lack of shell casings where the bodies had been found.

The remains of those that were found not too decomposed, showed signs of sexual abuse. The sexual abuse would take place both before and after the murder. Detectives believe that in most cases Yates would hire a prostitute, take drugs with them, engage in intercourse and then murder them. Most of the victims were discovered nude and showed obvious signs of abuse. Many of the victims were found with vegetation on or around them. The vegetation that was found by the victims was foreign to the area in which the victims were discovered. It was later found out that Yates would bring shrubbery from his home to leave at the scene of some of the crimes.

As with most serial killers who choose to murder prostitutes, Yates believed that police would take a long time to notice the women who were missing or investigate the prostitutes who were being murdered. Since prostitutes tend to make a living under the radar, it is not rare for some of the women to not be reported missing for a long periods of time. Yates would usually murder the women he picked up within a few hours of meeting them and would dump the bodies in open places, leaving only a small window for people to report the women as missing. Prostitutes are also much more likely to travel alone with strangers, making them more vulnerable than other women. Another problem with this lifestyle is that men are often coming and going so many people in these areas do not usually take notice of the cars or men that are picking up women. Yates used this to his advantage, especially since he would often use different cars to pick up women.

One major breakthrough in this case occurred on August 1, 1998 when Yates picked up a prostitute, Christine Smith. She was hired by Yates but was unable to arouse him and when she went to leave the van she found that there was no handle in the back. Christine was shot in the head, but managed to survive the attack, thinking that she had only been hit with something hard. Christine was able to tell police about the van that her attacker used, his height, weight, give a description about his face and stated that the man had claimed to be a helicopter pilot in the National Guard.

On April 18, 2000, Yates was arrested for the murder of Jennifer Joseph. This allowed for police to obtain Yates’s DNA, linking him to another 8 murders. In order to avoid the death penalty, Yates decided that he would confess to 13 counts of first-degree murder and 1 count of attempted first-degree murder. In 2000, Yates was sentenced to 408 years in prison. While serving his sentence in 2001 he was charged for the murders of another 2 women. In October of 2002, Yates was found guilty and sentenced to death by lethal injection. He is currently on death row in Washington State Penitentiary. Although he was convicted for 15 murders, Yates is thought to have been involved in at least 18 murders.

Sources:
Robert Lee Yates on Wikipedia
Robert Lee Yates Jr. by Gary C. King on TruTV.com
Robert Lee Yates in the Serial Killer Timelines at Radford University
The Robert Lee Yates Spokane Serial Killer Timeline at Mayhem.net

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